You know That Project that makes so much sense in your head, but is apparently impossible to explain to anyone else? This is my That Project.
Basically, I want to query the role of recognition in drone culture: discourse, imagination, and practice. Among the most common criticisms of the turn toward drone warfare is the notion that it turns war into something like a video game, particularly for the drone operators: something mediated, distant, perhaps even entertaining. This idea persists despite recent popular media attention to the high rates of ‘burnout’ and post-traumatic stress among drone pilots. So my first task is to understand this persistence and, relatedly, the establishment of this narrative as a kind of commonsense for activist and scholarly critiques of drone warfare. Underpinning these critiques is the notion, often but not always explicit, that the remedy for this kind of automated, video-game warfare is for the operators (or, by extension, the military, or the state) to recognize the humanity of their targets). But I want suggest otherwise: non-recognition isn’t the problem (because we have good evidence that a good number of drone operators understand what they are doing) and, moreover, that recognition isn’t the solution, as recognition itself has been militarized. I think.
And I’m imagining I can get there through an analysis of the following objects.
-Recommendations and Report of the Task Force on US Drone Policy (Stimson Task Force, June 2014): an extensive study of many dimensions—strategic, procedural, and conceptual—the US drone program, which directly controverted the assumption that drone operators experience war as a video game, asserting instead that the extensive surveillance work that precedes a strike can make executing it much more difficult.
-Not a Bug Splat: a “giant art installation” that “targets predator drone operators” with a massive poster of a child’s face spread out across a field in the Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa region of Pakistan, meant to put a human face on the targets that, its creators say, otherwise see only as “anonymous dot[s].”
-“In Times of Peace” Drone Selfies by IOCOSE: a series of fantastical self-portraits taken by drones whose services are no longer needed in the War on Terror. Created as a meditation on the failures and after-lives of technologies, I find these photos clever and captivating, but for reasons I can’t yet articulate. Stay tuned.